*Intangible Heritage / Sustainable Tourism
UNESCO-EIIHCAP Regional Meeting
Safeguarding Intangible Heritage and Sustainable Cultural Tourism:
Opportunities and Challenges
Hué, Viet Nam
11-13 December 2007
What is intangible cultural heritage?
Cultural heritage is more than the monuments and objects that have been preserved over time.
The cultural heritage of humanity also includes the living expressions and traditions that countless communities and groups in every part of the world have received from their ancestors and are passing on to their descendants. This intangible cultural heritage (ICH) provides communities, groups and individuals with a sense of identity and continuity, helping them to understand their world and giving meaning to their lives and their way of living together. A mainspring of cultural diversity and an unmistakable testimony to humanity’s creative potential, intangible heritage is constantly being recreated by its bearers, as it is practiced and transmitted from person to person and from generation to generation. In recent decades, living heritage has gained increasing worldwide recognition and become a focus of international cooperation, with
UNESCO playing a leading role.
The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (the Convention) calls on States that have ratified it to safeguard living heritage on their own territories and in cooperation with others. Ratified by more than 80 countries, it seeks to celebrate and safeguard the intangible heritage distinctive for particular communities. At the same time, the Convention does not intend to establish a hierarchy among heritage elements or identify some as more valuable or important than others. The Convention affirms that the intangible heritage of all communities -whether they are large or small, dominant or non-dominant- deserves our respect.
Safeguarding living heritage means taking measures aimed at ensuring the viability of ICH. This does not mean freezing its form, reviving some archaic practice, or creating multimedia documents for an archive. Rather, safeguarding means trying to ensure that the heritage continues to be practiced and transmitted within the community or group concerned.
Communities must be actively involved in safeguarding and managing their living heritage, since it is only they who can consolidate its present and ensure its future. States that ratify the Intangible Heritage Convention are obliged to safeguard heritage through measures such as protection, promotion, transmission through formal and non-formal education, research and revitalization, and to promote greater respect and awareness. One practical measure required of each State Party is to identify and define the various elements of intangible heritage present on its territory, in one or more inventories.
Cultural tourism and intangible heritage
Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world. Cultural tourism – that is, tourism with the objective among others of experiencing cultural heritage, whether tangible or intangible – is an expanding segment, and it seems likely that growth will continue in the long term. Furthermore, it has become clear over the last few years that it is the developing world that receives an increasingly large portion of this expansion. The impact of this tourism will heighten challenges that developing countries already face. Properly managed, the tourism and travel industry can bring substantial benefits on both a macro- and local level. By providing new employment opportunities, tourism can help alleviate poverty and curb the out-migration of youth and other marginally-employed community members. Also, through bringing revenue to sites, tourism has the potential to enhance and safeguard heritage. Similarly, the much-needed foreign currency and investment that tourism brings has the power to revitalise traditional building and craft industries. On a more human level, by bringing in revenue, tourism has the capacity to strengthen local people’s self-respect, values and identity, thereby safeguarding aspects of their intangible heritage and enhancing their development potential.
While tourism has the potential to enhance and preserve the tangible and intangible cultural heritage on which it relies, if it is not managed and controlled, it can also degrade and irreversibly damage this very same valuable resource. There are countless examples of how unplanned tourism, although potentially profitable in the short term, has damaged fragile historical and cultural resources, thereby undermining their value. In the same way, unplanned tourism can erode a community’s self-image and cultural values as well. Although tourism is increasingly recognized as a potentially powerful development tool, situations frequently arise where local communities are side-lined and benefit little from the tourism in their area.